Of Course They Are

Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as The Doctor and, contrary to the warnings of the closed-minded, the world has not come to an end. Not even on television.

Her appearance in the Christmas special is short: she’s got a grand total of one line–two words–but that’s as expected. A Doctor’s last episode is always about the outgoing version, which is as it should be. Before taking off in “radically new directions,” it makes sense to look back at where you’ve been.

From that perspective, by the way, it was an excellent episode, looking back all the way to the first Doctor, and touching several major points in between Numbers One and Twelve. That it also gave the scriptwriter an opportunity to point out how The Doctor’s attitudes toward women, non-whites, and the LBGTEtc communities have changed since 1963. One suspects many of the people objecting to a female Doctor are more in accord with the first Doctor’s sentiments than the twelfth.

Despite the brevity of Ms. Whittaker’s appearance, the doomsayers are already declaring her run a failure. The kindest such remarks I’ve seen are along the lines of “If you suddenly turn into a woman, the first words out of your mouth are going to be ‘What the hell?’ and not ‘Oh, brilliant!'”

I say “kindest” because that comment puts the burden of disapproval on the scriptwriter and not the actress, but rest assured there are plenty of complaints aimed at her.

But I want to talk about that complaint, because it highlights just how desperate the naysayers are to discredit Ms. Whittaker and everyone associated with the show.

Consider:

  • Time Lords changing sex when they regenerate is canon. One has to look no further than Missy for proof, but there have been others. Whether you as a viewer like the fact, it’s part of the universe. And so, while it might not be at the top of a regenerating Time Lord’s mind, it’s a possibility they all live with.
  • The Doctor is at least 1,500 years old. He’s been everywhere and everywhen. He’s burnt out and so far beyond bored he can’t even see it from where he’s standing. Now he’s got a chance to try something radically different. You think he’s going to complain? And let’s face it: a willingness to try new things and see the universe from different perspectives has been one of The Doctor’s core values since that first Doctor.
  • Historically, The Doctor has been somewhat manic immediately after regeneration with all the over-the-top enthusiasm that implies. And let’s not forget that nearly every Doctor has been convinced he’s the best and most attractive incarnation yet. Hell, it’s a running joke that whenever two Doctors meet, nearly the first words out of the earlier one’s mouth are a complaint about how he doesn’t like what the newer one has done with the body. So of course she’s going to approve of the new look and be eager to get on with it–even if she doesn’t know what “it” is yet. Because that’s what The Doctor does.
  • Finally, remember what I said last week about the Last Jedi haters? Same thing applies here. The people who create the show are the only ones who get to decide where the story goes. If you don’t want to go there, you have the option of staying home. If enough people stay home, the show will be canceled (or, in the case of a cash cow like Doctor Who, more likely the creators will be replaced). Okay, end of rant.

And here we are with a new Doctor, an exploding TARDIS, and a fall from high altitude without a parachute. Brilliant!

It’s About Time

Oh, noes! The next Doctor is going to be a woman! Oh, the horrorz!

There’s a lot of that sort of thing floating around the Internet these days. Makes me want to find a wall and apply a forehead to it it. Repeatedly and forcefully. Maybe mine, but those of the people making the comments seem more in need.

Okay, I know there are some non-SF fans reading this, so let me take a moment to explain.

Doctor Who is a long-running show from the BBC–it’s been running since 1963, albeit with a rather long hiatus in the 1990s and early 2000s. I won’t attempt to summarize nearly forty years of storytelling; the important thing here is the title character. Over the course of the show, The Doctor has been played by twelve different actors. Doctor Who is not, of course, the only show to replace a star. What made it nearly unique is that the change was written into the show: acknowledged and made a part of the character.

From a storytelling standpoint, it was a brilliant idea, and undoubtedly a major contributor to the show’s longevity. Changing performers without trying to find someone who looks and behaves like the previous person in the role allows writers and actors an opportunity to take the character in a radically new direction every few years. Even better, the backstory developed to explain the changes has been a rich source of story ideas.

Every Doctor’s retirement since Tom Baker’s in 1981 has been accompanied by speculation that the newcomer might be a woman. That’s apparently Baker’s fault. Supposedly (and I can’t validate this), when he announced his retirement, he wished his successor, “whoever he–or she–might be,” good luck.

But until now, every Doctor has been male. Old, young, or somewhere in between. Oh, and white. Let’s not forget that.

Suddenly, everything’s changed.

Well, no. Not really. The Doctor will still be The Doctor, dedicated to preserving Earth and the universe from the forces of…well, not necessarily evil. Perhaps “chaos,” “entropy,” and “greed” would be better tags.

It’s been a long time coming, but remember what I said about “radically new directions”? It’s time to let the show and the character do something new. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt a quite literal chill of excitement watching the trailer introducing Jodie Whittaker.

In the end, it comes down to storytelling. If the writers use Ms. Whittaker as a plug-in part and keep retelling the same old stories, it’s a waste. If she’s used as an excuse to show some same-sex snogging, it’s a lost opportunity. But if they truly embrace the chance they’ve been given, we’ll get a freshness we haven’t seen since the show’s reboot–pardon me, “relaunch”–in 2005.

To those crying doom and gloom, I say, “Give it chance. If it sucks, stop watching.” And to those who are complaining because we still haven’t gotten a Doctor of color, I’d add, “Hang in there. It’ll happen. And I’m quite sure it won’t take another forty years.”

No. Just, No.

My apologies for starting the new year on a negative note, but there are dark clouds on the horizon*, and it’s best to buy umbrellas before the rain arrives. Bear with me while I point out a few things that need to be stopped before they become problems.

* That’s figuratively speaking. Literally, the clouds are here and so is the rain. California still needs water, but it’s nice to see the fill line moving up instead of down.

BBC America is about to start rerunning the latest season’s episodes of Doctor Who. I’ve got no problem with that at all. What I do take exception to is the plan to overlay the show with fan art, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook posts (I presume the latter two will be heavily edited for length), and BBC-provided nuggets of information (or, my cynical side suggests, “blocks of text superficially resembling information”).

There’s a place for tweets and blog posts. That place is on their original services. If I need to find out which random people I’ve never heard of want a new sonic screwdriver–and yes, that is one of the examples in the promotional announcement–I’ll go to Twitter myself. Ditto for pen and ink drawings of the guest stars–another example.

Before you dismiss my concern by telling me to just not watch the reruns, consider (a) the desperate need for network executives to continually come up with new ways to “engage” viewers, and (b) the popularity of live tweeting TV shows. If BBC America’s little experiment is anything but an abject failure, how long will it be before every new episode has one or more designated live tweeters’ output overlaid on the broadcast? Hint: the new season won’t start for several months (anywhere from three to seven if recent history is any guide). That’s plenty of time for the BBC to choose their torturerstweeters.

Please, don’t watch these so-called “Doctor’s Notes” and urge your friends not to watch them as well. Only a ratings disaster can save us from this potential scourge.

Moving on.

It’s probably too late to prevent this one. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is being remade for TV. And, lest you think this isn’t as stupid an idea as ever was thought, yes, it’s a remake of the movie, not a televised production of the stage musical. That latter might actually make some sense, in the spirit of the recent live TV productions of other musicals.

As I said, this one’s probably unstoppable. It’s been in the works long enough that the stars’ identities are being released. In fact, the first release was back in October. (Damned if I know how I missed that announcement.)

Let’s get real, here. Much of the appeal of Rocky Horror is its interactive nature. Even if the script is rewritten and updated (a repellent concept in itself), how is Fox going to encourage viewers to interact with the production? Are they taking notes on BBC America’s little experiment? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

If you think I’m being alarmist, consider how many people use pay-per-call 900 telephone numbers to vote on talent-based shows. Think Fox wouldn’t consider a “Text your joke to see it in a banner at the bottom of the screen” approach if they could charge 99 cents a message? Anyone think they haven’t already considered it?

End of civilization–to the extent that television is civilization–approaches.

Moving on again.

News out of CES is that Harman and Microsoft are collaborating to put Microsoft Office-based information in automobile information/entertainment systems.

Apparently we’re not talking spreadsheets and word processors here, fortunately. But the last thing the any driver needs is more distractions. I long ago gave up counting the days in which I wasn’t nearly killed by another driver doing something stupid: there just weren’t enough of them for me to keep track. Now I count how many times I’m nearly killed every day*. Give those drivers the opportunity to listen to e-mail, dictate replies, schedule meetings, and participate in Skype meetings and nobody will ever be safe on the road again.

* The current average is a smidge under one near-accident for every two miles driven.

I’m probably killing my chances of ever again finding gainful employment by saying this, but there is not a single job in which distracting drivers by sending them meeting reminders and requiring them to participate in the meeting while they’re on the road could possibly be important enough that they should be allowed to risk my life. Regardless of what passengers might do, for the person behind the wheel, the job has to stop until the car is parked with the engine off!

Let’s end this on a cheerier note.

Gizmodo–home of the reasoned response–is up in arms over an announcement by Fisher-Price that they’ll soon be selling a toy to teach preschoolers how to code.

Sounds horrid, doesn’t it?

The reality is rather less dreadful. The “Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar” is a motorized toy that can be programmed to travel different paths by rearranging its segments, i.e. a forward arrow segment will send it forward for a set distance, then control will pass to the next segment; if that’s a “turn left” piece, the critter will–surprise!–turn left.

According to Fisher-Price, this will teach kids “thinking skills, problem solving and sequencing”. Apparently, it will also teach them to omit commas, but I digress.

I’ve got news for Gizmodo: toys like this have been around since my long-vanished teen years. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve taught anyone “thinking skills”. My nephew is too old for the Code-A-Pillar (and not quite old enough to be interested in hacking one), but if he were several years younger, I wouldn’t hesitate to get him one–and see how long it took him to deliberately program it to fall down the stairs.

Frankly, from a “won’t somebody think of the children” perspective, I’m more concerned about Magis’ Me Too My First Office. Do we really need to turn pre-teens into cubicle dwellers?